How to Deal with Appointment Cancellations

In the dental office, patient cancellations can become extremely problematic. While occasional cancellations may be the norm, many offices are experiencing an explosion of cancellations with the sixth wave of COVID.

Unfortunately, the COVID cancellations you are currently experiencing leave you with very few options to recover from them in most practices. Right now, to combat these unavoidable last-minute cancellations you will need to ensure that your current systems are in place and working efficiently to ensure that all healthy patients attend their appointments.

Your VIP/Priority patient lists should be kept up to date so that there is an available pool of patients to contact for any cancellations that you may have.

We teach people how to treat us by the way that we treat them. If you don’t honor your patient’s time and are always running late, cancelling appointments or changing appointment times then you may find your patients mirroring this behaviour. It’s hard to be upset with patients when this happens.

If your patients don’t value their appointments, then they are more likely to change them. Many patients will think that is doesn’t matter if they change their appointment because it’s “just” a cleaning. To counter this, you will want to ensure that the hygienists are constantly educating patients throughout each appointment with the benefits of keeping on their hygiene schedule as well as the consequences of not following their diagnosed perio intervals.

Many offices are worried about “losing” patients in the computer if they don’t pre- appoint them. You won’t lose patients if you are using your software properly. User error is the one and only cause for losing patients in your software. Pre-appoint only patients who will have a stable schedule, a good history of keeping appointments and are compliant with their dental diagnosis. If a patient does not fit into this category, then let them know that you will contact them a few weeks prior to their due date. This will avoid short notice cancellations with patients who aren’t reliable.

Verbiage throughout the office needs to be consistent for the patient to value their appointment. Often when patients are asked to book their next appointment, if they hesitate when they are asked team members will say “Let’s just book it and then you will at least have the appointment, you can always call and change it closer.” This messaging can very often be the downfall of a well booked schedule. You have actually given the patient permission to cancel with that one statement.

Remember to collect data around your cancellations and no-show appointments to ensure that you are making decisions based on real data not just a bad day every now and then. Your cancellation and no-show percentage should be looked at differently than your unscheduled time. Together these two scenarios should be less than 10% in hygiene chairs and less than 6% in dentist chairs.

If you make it easy for patients to cancel, then it is more likely to happen, and you are reinforcing their poor behaviour. If a patient who rarely cancels calls in unable to make their appointment, then it’s best to err on the side of empathy and understanding. A patient who is a “serial canceler” should not be allowed to cancel an appointment without consequence. They can be asked to call back with a date that will work for their schedule and shouldn’t be offered another appointment on the spot.

As always, ensure that your team has had proper training on best practices for handling cancellations. Have written protocols of how each scenario should be handled to ensure that there is uniformity and each team member is familiar with how you want cancellations handled.

If you are dealing with cancellation issues and are having a hard time identifying the root cause, it’s helpful to recruit a fresh set of eyes. Getting help from a coach can give you a valuable insight you can use to prevent your schedule from crumbling unnecessarily.

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